Cybercrime Bill passes Senate, set to become law

The Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 has passed through the Australian Senate, allowing Australia to accede to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor on

The controversial Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 passed the Australian Senate today.

The Bill amends the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987, the Criminal Code Act 1995, the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 and the Telecommunications Act 1997, and allows Australia to accede to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime. The latter treaty is designed to foster cooperation and common policy between nations to deal with multi-national crimes committed on computer networks across the globe, such as online fraud or child pornography offences.

The proposed amendments have been debated rigorously, with some concerned that the legislation is a backward step, and many internet service providers are concerned over the new requirements that may be placed upon them to retain data on individuals under investigation.

The Bill passed with some amendments by the Labor Party, after taking into consideration some of the recommendations made by the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety. These include privacy protections and how assistance is provided to foreign agencies.

The Greens' amendments were voted against. These included concerns that the information shared could result in the death penalty overseas, even though Australia does not support capital punishment, and that the Bill should be clearer to prevent this. Greens spokesperson Scott Ludlam also said in the Senate today that it was deeply concerning that countries with less strict privacy legislation than Australia could request personal information on Australians under investigation, and that the amendments had no language to refuse such a request.

"Given the medium that we now operate in, privacy protections can be absolutely rock-solid in Australia, but if we are sharing data — intimate personal details of people's lives — with law enforcement and intelligence agencies in foreign jurisdictions with lower standards of privacy protection that we have in Australia, and that material leaks, then the privacy protections that they're afforded in Australia is worthless, because that information can be back in Australia at the speed of light."

With the amendments becoming law, Australia will be able to join 34 other nations that have already acceded to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, including the US and Germany.

"This is good news for fighting crime, and will help make it easier for police to track down cybercriminals around the world," Australian Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said in a statement.

"In particular, this will help combat criminal offences relating to forgery, fraud, child pornography and infringement of copyright and intellectual property.

"The Convention promotes a coordinated approach to cybercrime, by requiring countries to criminalise these computer related offences. The Convention also establishes procedures to make investigations more efficient to improve international cooperation."

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